19 Sep

Guest Post: Merrilee Faber Writes About Creative Revision

Posted in Brain Boot Camp, DIY MFA, Process

Today’s guest post is by Merrilee Faber who recently hosted a Creativity Workshop on her blog Not Enough Words.  In this post, she approaches the revision process from a creative standpoint.  Thank you, Merrilee!

But first, a short bio.  Merrilee Faber lives in the sand and fly infested west of Australia, where she battles giant spiders and venomous snakes every day in a desperate attempt to survive.  When not defending her family from Australia’s deadly denizens, she tries to earn a crust by telling people what to do, with moderate success.  She is a consummate liar, but gets away with it by calling it “fiction”.  You can get to grips with Merrilee at her blog Not Enough Words (http://notenoughwords.wordpress.com).

Revision would have to be the least popular part of the writing process.  You’ve slaved for weeks, months (even years!) to produce this manuscript; through the good days and the bad days and the why-didn’t-I-take-up-cat-herding-it-would-be-easier days. 

Now here you are, exhausted, drained, a rumpled, coffee-stained manuscript in your hands, facing the realization that you are not finished yet.  That there is so much more work to do.

Is it any wonder our tired muse rebels?  So we rush through revision, changing a word here, a scene there, cutting great chunks out of the story because we have to.
After all this time we want nothing more than to be complete.  So we tuck the muse away and approach revision like a dirty job that has to be done.

But revision can be, should be, as creative a process as writing the first draft.  The revision stage is an opportunity to turn your story up a notch.  And this is something you cannot do without engaging your creative side.

So how do you go about creative revision?

Let the landscape of your story become unknown.  If you are too familiar with the story, it is more difficult to write fresh.  I recommend at least a month, and that month spent thinking and writing other stories.

We tend to fall in love with prose, and don’t want to change what sounds good.  But you must be prepared to scrap everything, even those sentences you love, to improve your story.  And you can only do this as a dispassionate observer.

Question every decision
Fiddling with word choice and rearranging scenes and phrases is just cosmetic.  While it’s nice to tidy, you need to go deeper.  Get your hands dirty. 

Look at every choice you made while writing.  Was it the right choice?  What can you change to make this moment/character/scene stronger, tighter, have more impact?  Dig beneath the surface and find more meaning, more impact from the events in your story.  Keep that inspiration coming, because more often than not, the second idea is better than the first.

 Build depth and complexity
Revision is the time when you should be adding metaphor.  Placing foreshadowing for critical events.  Developing and strengthening your theme.  Retooling your characters to add subtle layers to their psychology.  Don’t be content with what you already have.  Add layer upon layer to your narrative.  Add touches of colour and voice.  Build a web of character and event and place so tight that no-one can escape the clutches of your story.


Make every word pull its weight
You are wordy.  Don’t deny it.  Embrace the fact, and then get out the hacksaw.  90% of your adjectives can go, and 99% of your adverbs.  There will be repetition everywhere.  Say it once, say it right.  Bin the rest.

This may not sound creative, but this is where you use your creativity as a fine-pointed tool.  Slice delicately.  Excise, tune, think about every phrase, every word choice you have made.  Does this word or phrase convey the tension, the impact of the moment?  How can I say it stronger?

And of course, now is the time to get rid of all the clichés.  It’s fine to use them in the first draft – they’re fast and simple and you don’t need to think about them.  But leaving clichéd phrases and ideas in the final manuscript is a crime against literature, and even worse, it’s boring.  Don’t be a bore.

Revising creatively leads to a stronger manuscript.  If you approach this important stage without your creativity engaged, you are short-changing your story. 

So next time you are facing a first draft that needs review, let go of that feeling of dread.  Approach the revision stage with joy, knowing that you are still creating.  That your inspiration is just as important now as it was when you started to write.


Comments on this post

  1. sharigreen says:

    I love revising! Seriously, it's way more fun than first-drafting, for me at least.

    Thanks for this great post — excellent points!

    1. Rosanne Dingli says:

      I too love the revision process, but this post has given me lots more ideas and approaches to put into place.
      First, however, I must have a draft…argh! I have everything but the draft. All I need is to stretch my fingers over the keyboard, and it'll come out. Tomorrow.

      1. a.m.harte says:

        I enjoy revising, but I do find I have to give the story some time before returning to it. But there's a certain pleasure in revisiting characters now that I know them. In the first draft, they are strangers to me and I learn about them as I write. By the revision, they're close friends. 🙂

        I do find revising a very creative process — and as a result, I often find that revising consumes all my attention and I'm unable to work on other projects simultaneously!

        1. Shallee says:

          This is great, thanks for sharing! I actually love revising, especially when I'm creative with it. I'd definitely second the "take a break" advice– that helps me more than anything else!

          1. Michelle says:

            Revising can be the best part for me too. But I do always put my creativity in my back pocket when I start revising, thinking I need to be more serious and just fix problems. I love this way of looking at revisions!! And yes, I am wordy *sigh*.

            1. cah4el says:

              Great post on revisions! Thank you for sharing and giving the revision process the respect and enthusiasm it deserves.

              1. Kerryn Angell says:

                I love the added advice to not just step away from your piece for a month but to be focusing on other stories during that time.

                I'm not sure I'm totally shaken that nauseous feeling at the thought of revision but it's bit of advice like this is helping. I like the idea of approaching it as another creative exercise. That's much for familiar and comfortable territory for me.

                1. darksculptures says:

                  I'll be doing my first serious revision in February. When I set the work to the side in November of last year I looked forward with dread. However, as the MS cooled I started to get rather excited about improving the work and now February can not come fast enough. Hearing from you that it can be a fun and creative adventure has only fired me up all the more.

                  1. Michelle Davidson Argyle says:

                    Great post! I love the advice to step away from the manuscript and get distance from it. That is usually the problem I have with mine.

                    1. Amanda Sablan says:

                      This was pure awesomeness; exactly what I needed as I'm in the revision stage. I've got a bunch of adverbs to scrap, I know that much. 😛

                      1. Natasha says:

                        I think I will print up a little tag with 'Say it once, say it right' on it to hang on the wall next to my desk. Great words to write by!

                        …I actually like the revision process quite a bit and find it pretty satisfying. This of course assumes that I've drafted something worth revising — which is not always the case. But when it is, bliss.

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